I Have Measured Out My Life With Coffee Mugs

I have more mugs than I’ll ever need unless I get religion and host the weekly Ladies’ Prayer Breakfast.

Still, I’m down to a thirty year low. Through attrition and my once- a- decade “I’m gonna toss every item in this kitchen I don’t use” campaign (that last took place January 2, 2005) all my mugs fit on one shelf. As I dried dishes yesterday I mused on my collection of cups and realized that it’s an eloquent journal of my last twenty-five years.

The Tulip Trio


It was originally a Tulip Quartet,  Whenever I pour some Joe into these mugs I think of Marilyn — Marilyn Leyland McArthur.

Wham! Elmo.Sean and Madonna. Back to the Future. Diet Coke

It was August, and my parents had driven Honor back from Montreal, where she’d summered with them. In retrospect I’m sure that Mummy was appalled at my ragtag collection of breakfast beverage containers, because on the second day of her visit she gifted me with the tulip mugs.

She’d bought them at a shop she called Warrenville Drug and Pastry because you could yes, fill a prescription and buy a croissant there. Also a fifth of Jack, a lace hanky, a Dove bar, and the stand mirror on display on my dressing table as I type this. Pure retail awesomeness in  a space the size of your dining room. Its actual name was straightforward and informational: Warrenville Drug and Liquor.

The Abyssinian Years


Joshua Tree and Bad. Iran-Contra and Robert Bork. Fatal Attraction and Lethal Weapon. I’m pretty sure I was sporting a shag, which was surprisingly flattering

Honor asked for a cat for her birthday, and we’d just read a laudatory article about the Abyssinian cat breed in Connoisseur  Magazine.(RIP) Like any good parents who could barely make their mortgage, we drove an hour to a breeder and handed her four hundred dollars for “pet quality” Persephone. (Honor was doing an Ancient Greek unit at school.) We bought her an Aby sister, Calliope, at a cat show the following year and those cleverest and loveliest of cats represented for their breed and ruled us mercilessly for about eight years. Our dog, Willa, knew where she stood on the animal hierarchy – according to the kitties, lower than a worm.

Spring Break 1996


Blur and the Spice Girls, Jerry Macguire and Pokemon, the Motorola StarTAC  — it’s coming back to you, right?  The IRA was enjoying a renaissance of sorts, and blew up a London bus in February. So what does the caring parent say when her senior- in- high- school daughter announces that she’s decided to go to London over spring break with a friend?

“Oh wow! You’re going to love London!” She did. She also paid for it all, got her own passport and booked her lodging. She went to a Francis Bacon exhibition and drank beer legally — and that’s all I remember.

Oh! She went to Harrods and brought me back a mug, and a lunch bag. It was a happy, happy time.

The eGullet Era


I joined the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters back in 2002, and it changed my life. It was a very good thing in a year that included such doubtful events as Graham Coxon leaving Blur and No Child Left Behind.

I’ll probably write a whole post about eG sometime, so I’ll keep this short: I made new friends, I learned a ton about food and I started to write. Here’s a collection of the mugs I received for volunteering.

I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this knows about eGullet, but if you don’t head to http://www.egullet.org.

The Evil Boss


This, along with a couple of bags of coffee, came as the result of a Christmas grab bag at work. My boss, who shall remain nameless, had pulled my name, and her gift is the single positive thing I can say about her. I’ve had many, many bosses of mixed value , but not one of them can approach this young woman for malice, ignorance, and cruelty.Don’t take my word for it– ask any unfortunate who worked on my team.So why do I hang onto the mug? It’s huge, heavy and perfect for soup. It reminds me to count my blessings — that woman is out of my life.

WBEZ 91.5 FM

We’re NPR geeks, members,and  disciples. Our local station is a particular source of pride to Chicago peeps — I mean, This American Life and Wait Wait! are WBEZ’s brainstorms. For a few years I ran their payroll, and the lovely Dorse Kelly was my favorite client. I took Lou with me to Navy Pier on a client visit, and Dorse gave me these historic mugs.

The Wait Wait!  writers’ table was completely covered with takeout food boxes — every other department gleamed with high architectural gloss. (And no, Peter Sagal and Ira Glass don’t make THAT much money.)

There it is: the story of most of my adult life sittin’ on a shelf. Why journal before bedtime when all I need to do is grab a cuppa java?



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7 responses to “I Have Measured Out My Life With Coffee Mugs

  1. I’m not takin’ time to read it before I shout, “HOOOOORAAAAY!!

    Huzza and she’s a jolly and all that. Welcome back.


  2. And now I have, and after lo, these long months, I realize anew just WHY I was drawn to you—as a writer, as a wit and a wonderful story-teller, as practically a cuisinical/literary encyclopedia, and most of all, as my friend.

    I’ve SO missed you, Sweetpea.


    PS I spent the afternoon making lunch for thirty to deliver tomorrow, and I think I’M back, as well.

  3. Rachel, dear: thank you sooo much. Do you know that I wake up every morning and go to bed every night feeling bad because I never answered your email? My father’s laptop and wireless connection defeated me. So glad to be back,

    (Yikes. Lunch for 30?)

  4. freakyfrites

    I know those mugs! Except for the WBEZ ones – past my prime. John made me get rid of all of our mish mash and adopt perfectly matching mugs. 😦 Sad.

  5. kim shook

    Yay!!!! Miss Maggie is back!!! And writing wonderful prose about coffee mugs. God, I love you and your writing and am grateful that you share it!

    You had an Abyssinian? Oh, so lucky! I’ve always wanted one. An apple head Siamese, too. Like living with a tiny little wildcat!

    Your old mugs are sure in better shape than ours are. With most of them I can barely see the writing – those are the ones that I can finally get Mike to get rid of. We share your love of those giant Starbucks mugs – they rock.

  6. Kouign Aman

    Good writing. And reminds me that I still have the mug gifted by my Secret Pal, freshman year in college.

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